Twelve of the convenience store industry's most accomplished foodservice retailers were honored last night at a special reception for the inaugural Convenience Store News Foodservice Innovators Awards.
Held in the NACS Hunter Club at the Las Vegas Convention Center and sponsored by Tyson Foods, the CSNews Foodservice Innovators Awards provided the convenience store industry with a forum to recognize retail leaders who are raising the bar on quality, service and innovation in this fast-growing product category.
Two winners, chosen by CSNews' 14-member panel of How To Do World-Class Foodservice experts, were named in each of the six award categories. They were:
Best Prepared Foods Innovator
Gold Winner: Sheetz
Silver Winner: Nice N Easy Grocery Shoppes
Hot Beverages Innovator
Gold Winner: Quick Chek
Silver Winner: Wawa
Cold & Frozen Beverages Innovator
Gold Winner: QuikTrip
Silver Winner: 7-Eleven
Best New Foodservice Program (introduced in past year)
Gold Winner: Maverik
Silver Winner: Kum & Go
Best Foodservice Limited-Time Offer/Promotion
Gold Winner: Valero
Silver Winner: VPS Convenience Store Group
Foodservice Retailer of the Year
Gold Winner: Rutter's
Silver Winner: Casey's General Stores
HOW THEY WERE CHOSEN
Earlier this year, CSNews sent ballots to our How To Crew of foodservice experts and asked them to vote on their choices for top foodservice innovators in six categories. We tallied up the votes from our panel, which includes top-tier retailers, prominent industry foodservice consultants and leading research firms.
Thus, the winners really represent the best of the industry as chosen by their peers and industry experts.
WHO CHOSE THEM
The CSNews How To Do World-Class Foodservice Crew consists of:
- Dr. Jack W. Cushman, Nice N Easy Grocery Shoppes
- Dean Dirks, b2b Solutions
- Eric Giandelone, Mintel Foodservice
- Burke Hodge, The Coffee Consultants
- Kane Kulas, CSM Bakery Products
- Michael Lawshe, Paragon Solutions
- Larry Miller, Miller Management and Consulting Services
- Maurice Minno, MPM Group
- Paul Pierce, formerly of 7-Eleven/MAPCO
- Tim Powell, Technomic
- Chad Prast, VPS Convenience Store Group
- Bonnie Riggs, The NPD Group
- Jennifer Vespole, Quick Chek Corp.
- Jerry Weiner, Rutter's Farm Stores
ABOUT THE WINNERS
Rutter's, based in York, Pa., won the gold medal for Foodservice Retailer of the Year. This award represents the c-store retailer that most effectively:
- Invested in technology to improve data gathering and/or customer service;
- Developed hot and cold food programs to expand its business, particularly in new areas like the dinner daypart;
- Scouted and hired foodservice and culinary talent to ensure a competitive edge;
- Advertised its brands and foodservice product development on both traditional and non-traditional media; and
- Innovated constantly, tried new things and didn't rest on its foodservice laurels.
Rutter's also received votes in several other categories, including prepared foods and cold/frozen beverages, with the judges particularly lauding the chain's quality and its ability to introduce unique menu items and programs.
Casey's, the small-market specialist that has achieved strong growth due to several initiatives such as going to 24-hour operations and expanded pizza delivery, won the silver medal for Foodservice Retailer of the Year.
In the Prepared Foods Innovator category, gold medalist Sheetz continued to rack up the honors. The Altoona, Pa.-based chain also was recently named a Golden Chain Award winner by a leading restaurant industry publication. Sheetz' MTO (made-to-order) sandwiches have been blurring the lines between c-stores and quick-service restaurants for years.
Nice N Easy Grocery Shoppes, the upstate New York chain, took home the silver medal in the prepared foods category. The retailer's Easy Street Eatery brand, which includes pizza, hot and cold subs, wraps, melts, Stromboli, burgers, salads and bakery, now offers a new home meal replacement line of microwaveable meals.
Quick Chek, based in Whitehouse Station, N.J., was the gold medalist in the Hot Beverages Innovator category. "Always consistent, upscale, quality and variety, with great execution," one of our How To Crew judges said about Quick Chek's hot beverages program.
The silver medal winner in hot beverages was Wawa. Judges were wowed by the retailer's chainwide Coffee Station Makeover initiative, through which the Pennsylvania-based c-store chain completely redesigned the coffee areas at every one of its 572 stores. The program involved retiring the glass coffee pots used to serve and heat coffee and replacing them with energy-efficient thermals that reduce waste and provide the ultimate level of freshness to customers all day long.
The gold medal for Cold & Frozen Beverages Innovator went to QuikTrip. Judges' comments about QT's fountain area were effusive: "Their brewed tea wall is impressive with about 12 varieties and a separately designated area to merchandise their commitment to brewed teas. Likewise, they have a frozen area that is second to none, as well as a smoothie bar," commented one judge. Said another: "QuikTrip's cold dispensed beverages are still the industry standard," and "I think their new store layout screams cold and frozen beverages."
Silver medal Cold & Frozen Beverages Innovator 7-Eleven is no slouch either. Said one judge, "7-Eleven just keeps innovating with flavors and promotions."
The gold medal for Best New Foodservice Program went to Salt Lake City-based Maverik. Judges specifically cited Maverik's "Bonfire" proprietary hot and cold fresh food program and "The Bundle," a proprietary hot product line in which each Bundle is handmade in the store and comes in a variety of breakfast, lunch and snack offers. "I was impressed with how Maverik's foodservice offer has morphed into a very craveable program," one judge remarked.
Silver medalist Kum & Go made news this year for launching a new fresh food menu in select locations -- all made fresh in the stores. The menu items include made-to-order pizzas, burgers, burritos, hot sandwiches, freshmade deli sandwiches, pastries and breakfast sandwiches. Specific items include a breakfast pizza, Angus double cheeseburger, Italian sausage sandwich, eggs rolls, chicken salad croissant and apple turnovers.
Valero earned the gold medal for Best Limited-Time Offer/Promotion for its highly successful Whoopie Pie promo that is now a permanent program. Valero Corner Store locations with bakeries are now producing these moist cookie sandwiches. Whoopie Pies are baked with chocolate or vanilla cream cake batter, creating a moist top and bottom with delicious layers filled with buttercream icing. "The product was featured on store spanner banners above the doors and must have been selling really well," observed one judge.
VPS Convenience Store Group, the Wilmington, N.C.-based chain of 423 c-stores under the names Scotchman, Young's, Li'l Cricket, Village Pantry, Next Door Stores and Everyday Shops & Cafes, won the silver medal in this same category. The retailer was cited for its Bean Brothers Bottomless Cup offer, which provided free refills throughout the year to customers who purchased a coffee mug for $9.99.